Last week, the annual Consumer Electronics Show descended upon Las Vegas in the United States. We can always bet on a few game-changers during the show, including what to expect on the market soon, and concepts that may not even make their way to consumers’ hands.

What caught my eye this year, however, was the MSI Claw gaming handheld.

If you find yourself in the gaming verse, you’d know about gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch, Valve’s Steam Deck and the ROG Ally. The Ally, made by Taiwan-based Asus, is the most recent entry into the market and runs on Windows 11. The other two are differentiated by running custom operating systems.

This entry is fascinating in that it signifies that handheld gaming is a gaming trend – not just a fad.

Back to the Game Boy

In 1989, a fundamental period in gaming history, Nintendo unveiled a groundbreaking commercial that would reverberate through the gaming community.

It depicted a frustrated kid interrupting his gaming session as the family prepared for a vacation. This revealed the Game Boy, marking the advent of portable gaming.

We didn’t know this then, but the commercial underscored a fundamental truth in the gaming industry — the best console is the one you can carry with you.

Handhed gaming trend

Yet, the evolution of portable consoles has faced hurdles over the years. Historically, mobile gaming devices were plagued by clunkiness, underpowered hardware, and the need for exclusive games. They often lagged behind their in-home counterparts by several generations.

The industry made attempts to overcome these challenges with the launch of devices like the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS, emphasising a wireless revolution. However, the allure of smartphones diverted attention, treating handheld consoles as distinct entities.

Handheld’s resurgence

While the Switch and Steam Deck maintain their excellence, new players like Asus, Ayaneo, Logitech, Asus and now MSI carve unique paths as dedicated handheld systems. Analogue’s consoles consistently fly off the shelves, and Anbernic, Retroid, and similar brands are gaining traction with popular emulation devices in the rest of the world.

Locally, however, we’re only treated to the Steam Deck and the ROG Ally currently.

These platforms illustrate the intersection of power and portability, negating the need for compromises. The Windows consoles, for example, both run on an AMD (on the Ally) and Intel (on the Claw) SoC-type technology. This means they don’t need clunky graphics units built in, as the processors handle all the graphics computing on board.

They also present endless gaming opportunities with an open ecosystem like Windows, allowing gamers to play anything they could run on a desktop PC. This includes multiple game stores/launchers, as well as things like Xbox GamePass, EA Play and  Ubisoft Connect.

Simultaneously, smartphones are rapidly metamorphosing into formidable gaming devices. While there will always be a niche for gamers seeking the pinnacle of speed and performance with PCs and dedicated consoles, most gamers find contentment in the devices they hold in their hands.

Some prefer to keep it real

There’s no arguing that there is a market for these more advanced gaming handhelds. ‘Real’ gamers have lamented mobile gamers for the longest time, holding that smartphone gaming isn’t ‘real’ gaming.

Now those gamers have the freedom to roam and game on something like the MSI Claw on a device that can seamlessly run most of their favourite games. Interestingly, this may also turn many traditional mobile/smartphone gamers onto more ‘hardcore’ games via these handhelds – opening a completely new market to PC gaming.

*Disclaimer: Marcé is affiliated with Asus South Africa